All meetings between Welsh Ministers and lobbyists would be published, and members of the public could trigger an investigation into a Minister’s conduct, under plans launched by the Welsh Liberal Democrats today.
The party said that their wide-ranging plans would “restore faith in Welsh politics”. They include:
- A requirement for potential breaches of the Ministerial Code to be investigated by the Standards Commissioner
- A public register of meetings between Welsh Ministers or their officials and lobbyists or other external pressure groups
- Reform of the Assembly’s urgent question process, including a register of questions rejected by the Presiding Officer and the reason for rejection
- The election of Chairs of Assembly committees by the whole Assembly, rather than the position being in the gift of party leaders
- A system of allowing constituents to recall Assembly Members
- Continuing to publish ministerial decision reports that Labour Ministers attempted to axe during this Assembly term
The plans follow challenges by Kirsty Williams in First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday on previous comments by the First Minister on meetings with lobbyists.
A Freedom of Information request by the Welsh Liberal Democrats found that the First Minister met with external organisations 144 times between 7th May 2015 and the end of the year. This is despite comments by the First Minister in FMQs on 1st December 2015 saying that "it is not our policy to meet with lobbyists".
Kirsty Williams AM, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said:
“The Welsh Liberal Democrats have championed transparency against attempts by Labour Ministers to diminish it. Most recently, we fought Labour’s plans to axe one of the few insights the public have into the decisions made on their behalf.
“We need confidence that any processes designed to weed out wrongdoing aren’t open to tampering by Government. That’s why the emphasis of our plans is on independent oversight, ensuring people can have confidence in their Government.
“People have the right to hold their representatives to account. Our plans will help restore faith in Welsh politics, making it much easier for people to exercise that right.”
More details on the party's plans can be found below.
Independent investigations of Ministerial Code breaches
Under Welsh Lib Dem plans, potential breaches of the Ministerial Code would be referred to the Assembly’s existing Standards Commissioner by the First Minister, another Assembly Member or any member of the public, for a full investigation. This would bring scrutiny of Ministers under their code of conduct into line with procedures followed with regards to Assembly Members.
The final decision regarding any disciplinary action in the event of a confirmed breach would remain with the First Minister, though the Assembly would have provision to formally censure a Minister following a confirmed breach of the Code if a motion was tabled by at least six AMs.
Register of meetings between Ministers and external organisations
An accessible register of all meetings between Welsh Government Ministers or their officials and non-government organisations, would be made available on the Welsh Government website. Details of the participants, location and topic(s) of such meetings would be made available within five working days of the meeting itself.
Reforming the Assembly’s urgent question process
The party’s plans would see clear criteria to be used by the Presiding Officer when ruling on urgent questions laid down in Standing Orders. A public register of all rejected urgent questions would be established, which would include the grounds for rejection justified by the criteria.
Committee chairs elected by the Assembly
Instead of being in the gift of party leaders, Chairs of Assembly Committees would be nominated and elected by a secret ballot of all Assembly Members. The allocation of Committee chairmanships to party groups would continue under the present system.
Recall of AMs
If 20% of constituents sign a petition within a specified period, they earn the right to have a referendum in which voters are asked if they want to recall their AM. If more than half vote ‘Yes’, a by-election would be held. The recalled Assembly Member could stand as a candidate in the by-election.
We envisage a similar system for Regional AMs. They could be recalled on a similar basis, and then the next member on the list should take over the role rather than a by-election.